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Young man doing push ups looking determinedWhat is self discipline and where can I buy a big jar of it?  Is it in the same aisle as the elbow grease?

It’s the ability to exercise control over our own behaviour.  This includes our thoughts as well as our actions.

How well we are able to exercise control over ourselves is closely related to self esteem.  To obey ourselves, we must first respect ourselves. 

We need to think our own decisions are worth following.

We also need to have the necessary confidence in our own ability to follow through on our decisions. 

And of course, we must make worthwhile decisions for ourselves to begin with.

So, the place to start when we want to build self-discipline, is with our thoughts.

Wonan waking up to retro alarm clockEvery day is a new opportunity to do things a bit better, to be more organized, to be more productive, to be more positive, to handle things better.  And how do we start the day?  By getting out of bed.

Ok, so you might start your day before you get out of bed, by thinking, meditating, stretching, or cuddling if you have someone to cuddle.  That’s all good.

But there does come a time when you need to be up and at ‘em and face the day, by getting out of bed.  And I’m sure there are lots of people like me for whom that’s not always so easy.  (And I wouldn't mind an alarm clock like this old one which is considerate enough to let you know what day of the week it is.)

Well, we can make it easier for ourselves.  The most important factor in doing this is making our own decision, in advance, about when we want to get up.  We need to own this decision, believe in it, feel good about, take responsibility for it.

Meal cooking in a crock potDoes the idea of preparing your next meal bring a feeling of dread, a feeling you’ll need to go shopping, or a desire for take-away?  Does it make you worry about your budget for some reason?  Do you get a general feeling of uneasiness?

Or, do you know what you’re having, know you have all the ingredients on hand already, and look forward to your time pottering in the kitchen, relaxed, chatting, maybe listening to some music, knowing you’ll enjoy the meal, feeling confident about the whole thing, and certainly not worried about money?

Meal planning is the answer to finding yourself in the second scenario more often.  Yes, meal planning is the answer.  You need to plan your meals.

No, it’s not boring, and it doesn’t stifle creativity.  Planning things in advance gives you more freedom and flexibility. 

Eating take-away often may not be a terrible thing; if you’re ordering healthy Asian style meals with plenty of vegetables for example, and if you can afford it, why not.  The cost of a takeaway meal, however, is often up to three times what it would cost you to prepare the meal yourself.  This is not because the businesses are overcharging.  It’s because they have overheads and wages to pay for as well as the ingredients.

Messy bathroom cabinetSo, it’s all very well that we’re getting more organized ourselves, keeping things neat, cleaning, getting things done, managing our lists and so on, but how do we keep it up if we are sharing our space with people who don’t share our desire for order?

It’s annoying and frustrating to repeatedly find someone else’s dirty dishes laying around, or to have to use the bathroom after them when they’ve left whiskers in the sink, step over their junk on the floor and so on.

Well, I have some strong views about this issue.  I’m going to get all philosophical on you now, but I see it as practical too.

If you are focussed on what someone else is doing ‘wrong’ – you have got it wrong already.  This won’t help you, or them, or make any difference to your quality of life.

Judging and rating others makes something your problem that needn’t be.  It makes you a victim, it focuses on negativity, it makes the other person defensive, it creates an atmosphere, and ultimately, it’s a reflection of how you see yourself.  Another person’s lack of skill or experience or good habits in matters of organization, tidiness and cleanliness, affect them more than they affect you.  It is their issue, not yours.

Hand holding grocery receipt with fruit and vegetables in the backgroundIt’s got to be done, and there are lots of things we can do to make it work better with organization.  What do we want?  We want to stay within our budget (have I talked to you about budgets yet?  Don’t worry, I will soon).  We want it to be as painless as possible, possibly even enjoyable and/or satisfying.  We want to get everything done that we set out to do.  And we don’t want it to take longer than necessary.

When we do our regular grocery shopping there are often other errands to be attended to as well, such a going to the post office, the dry cleaners, the charity bin to unload some unwanted items, filling the car and so on.  It will all go much more quickly and smoothly if you plan it in advance.

So, before you think about stepping out the door, you need the following:

- A list of errands to be done.

- All items you need for your errands, i.e. letters to post, library books etc

- Your well prepared shopping list

- Know how much you expect to spend and where the money is or where you need to get it from

- Eat before you go- don’t go shopping hungry

- Make sure you are appropriately dressed.  You should always look your best, and you need to make sure you will be comfortable.  You don’t want to bump into a friend in the street with greasy hair and sloppy track pants on, and you don’t want to be feeling cold walking up the freezer aisle, or get blisters on your feet from walking a long way in high heels.

Coat hanging on a hookOur lives are made up of habits and routines, and if they’re good ones, our lives will be easier and more enjoyable, simple as that.  Developing and establishing good habits and routines is something worth making part of our lives, because having them abolishes the need for willpower and kills self doubt.

If you have a habit of leaving your clothes on the floor, leaving dishes for “later”, deciding you’re going to exercise, write that book, sort out your junk “one day”, that’s how your life is going to continue until you replace those patterns of behaviour with new ones.

Shop window at ChristmasOk, so it’s nearly December, and you know what that means!!  Out of control shopping, worrying, stressing, lots of parties, which means wanting nice clothes to wear, lots of extra little things to pay for, for a lot of people Christmas presents and Christmas food and decorations, celebrations for the new year, followed by problems with bills and a very scary credit card balance.

Right, so obviously we don’t want that.  We need to really spend some time now, sit down and plan, budget (yuck) and prepare.

I know many of you have lots of cooking to do, and decorating and so on, but that’s not what I’ll be writing about.  I want to talk to you about your budget.  Yes, the boring bit.  The really dull and tedious part of the holiday season.  Snore.  ZZZZZZZZZ

How did your budget go last year?  How does it tend to go every year?  Do you have any idea what you tend to spend?  Do you have a realistic budget of what you intend to spend this year, and what on?  Do you know where the money is coming from?  Can you afford it?  Do you still have most of your shopping ahead of you?

Soup stockAs I put off the topic of filing yet again (yes, and I know I’ve written about procrastination) and struggle to decide upon a topic for today’s newsletter, a friend telephoned.  I told him what I was working on, and he said he thought I would have had several of these articles always written in advance. 

Of course!  The same thing occurred to me as I noted the lateness of one of my recent newsletters when I was ill.  I did have the topics planned in advance, but have now come to the end of those, and it’s time to do some work, and improve my own habits in this area.

My friend and I discussed the advantages of preparing in advance, which is something he finds very helpful in choosing music for his radio show.

- If you get sick or something else unexpected comes up, it’s ok, because you’re already prepared.

- When you are working on the project, in my case choosing topics and writing articles on those topics, you can do it without the pressure of a deadline.

- This lack of pressure can improve the quality of your work.

- You give yourself some breathing space and flexibility.

Using a calculatorOne of the most important benefits of being a generally organized person should be that we have our budgets under control.  Do you? 

What is it that will make us not have to worry about money?  It’s easy really, in theory.  Like most things, it’s about decision making, and if you’ve made the best possible decisions and followed them, you should be able to relax, knowing that you’re doing what you need to be doing with your money.

To stop worrying about debts, you simply sit down and work out what you are able and willing to do – with help if necessary from a financial adviser – and make a plan.  You then stick to the plan and forget about it.  Ta da, debt worries finished.

But of course, sticking to your plan can be difficult to do.  And that’s where the guilt and worry comes in.

Unexpected bills just seem to keep turning up, and that can throw the best plans right out the window.

In order to eliminate the ‘unexpected bills’ phenomenon and make a budget that really works, we need to know EXACTLY where our money is going, and what expenses we can expect.  This is not as simple as it seems.  This is the preparation work that makes a really good budget.  It can take quite a bit of time to get all this information together accurately, especially if you’re starting from scratch.  Even if you have this information already, it may not have been updated for a while as prices have increased and your income has changed.

There are a number of different ways you can record your spending, and I’m not in a position to recommend any at the moment – I use a book keeping software package that’s a bit outdated at the moment, and it has some limitations, but it has gotten me into the habit of recording my spending in categories, which I have done successfully for the last 10 years. 

Whether you record your spending with pen/pencil and paper or on your computer, what matters is that you are able to get a realistic picture of where your money goes. 

Household filing systemFiling is a habit we hopefully start as early as primary/grade school, as we keep our homework, schoolwork and artwork organized.  Or, as often happens, we can somehow struggle through to adulthood without really having a system in place.

No matter how messy or non-existent your filing system is, if you really think about it, there probably is SOME kind of system going on, even if that is just a series of piles.  Yes, even dumping papers onto a pile that just stays there is a system of some sort.  You know that the newer stuff is probably on top, unless you’ve disturbed the pile by rummaging though it looking for something.

Getting a filing system in place can be a bit scary to contemplate for some, but really it’s just about categorizing.  You need lots of folders, and you need them now!  Keep spare ones on hand too.  Even if you have hanging suspension files, use folders inside them so you can remove the folder without the whole file, and you can see exactly where it goes back.

Folders are simple, magical and wonderful objects which are capable of creating order.  Their usefulness is often underestimated and they are often underused.  Folders can make keeping any kind of papers so much easier.

Filing is about creating categories, and having a habit of putting things away in the correct folder and maintaining those folders.


You don’t want too many, too few, or titles that you will forget you’ve got (and accidentally start another one the same with a slightly different name).  So it needs to be re-assessed once you get going and updated from time to time. 

If a folder is getting too fat, ask yourself if you’re keeping things for longer than you need to, or if that folder needs breaking up into further categories.

Household categories will be things like:

Busy Working MumRunning a home when you also work full time means you need to pay particular attention to your life balance.  Your work life balance is what your sanity depends upon, and needs your attention. 

The following is an example of an email I seem to have written quite a few times in response to readers who, like me, struggle to do everything when they work full time as well as run a home:

Thank you for your email.
It sounds as though you have a full time job as well as running your home, and I know that makes it very hard to get everything done and still have time to relax.  You certainly don't want to be doing housework at 11pm.
From what you tell me, I think you probably need to lower your standards to a more realistic level, delegate chores to your family, and make a new timetable that works better for you. 

You should be able to see on paper when you write it all down whether it is going to take too long or not.  Having the reality of your life set out in front of you can help you see what the situation really is so you can make some decisions about things that are within your control.
Remember the section in the book where I talked about prioritising, and the thing about the rocks in the jar?  And time boxing?  You decide how much of your time each week you're happy to spend doing housework, and make a plan around that - not thinking of what you would need to do to have a perfect house, and then fitting your life around that.  Do you see what I mean?  Time for yourself to relax IS a priority.  It's all about balancing how you spend your time, and making decisions.
Hope that helps.
Kind regards,

The main point I want to make here is that many of us are sucked into having unrealistic standards and expectations of ourselves about how we keep our homes.  Unless we can clone ourselves, there are just so many hours in the day, and a number of different categories of activities we want to devote time to.


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Western Australia

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M Shears, 
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